POLICE bosses are set to cut the number of specialist dog handlers across Hampshire and Thames Valley.

Fifteen police dog handler roles will be scrapped from the two forces, in a bid to save almost £320,000.

Police chiefs say the cuts will not impact the service provided by the unit – which helps in tasks such as explosive search and victim recovery.

But the body representing rank-and-file officers have described the decision as both "short sighted and dangerous".

The changes will see the combined Hampshire and Thames Valley Dog Section reduced from six sergeants and 53 handlers to four sergeants and 40 handlers.

Of those, two sergeants and 18 constables will be from Hampshire Constabulary and two sergeants and 22 PCs from Thames Valley Police.

Dave Hardcastle, ACC Operations for Thames Valley Police and Hampshire Constabulary said no deadline had been set for the changes to be made.

He said the cuts would be made through "natural attrition", while a police spokeswoman added there would be no redundancies.

In a statement, Mr Hardcastle said: "We have been actively reviewing our resources within the joint operations unit for Thames Valley Police and Hampshire Constabulary and believe that we have the opportunity to operate more effectively and efficiently without impacting on the service that we provide to keep our communities safe.

"The unit’s resources will be deployed to match resources with demand.

"Our Dog Unit is, and will continue to be, a valued resource that is key to the operational tactics that we have available to deploy."

Mr Hardcastle added that changes would be made in consultation with the Police Federation.

However, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, John Apter, criticised the decision.

Mr Apter said: “This is a short sighted and dangerous decision which has focused on the cost of the Dog Section but ignored the value of it.

"Police Dogs provide an essential role and are depended upon by officers.

"The contribution they bring to policing can’t be underestimated, this decision is a devastating blow to officers and the public.

"It’s the wrong decision and one we will come to regret.”